As a Developmental Editor and Story Coach, I read hundreds of stories every year, and over and over again, I see writers making the exact same errors. The errors are so common, in fact, that when I’m creating the feedback document for someone’s story, most of the time I find myself writing the same few things over and over again.
By far the #1 problem I see in stories is not having an actual story, but an episodic narrative, which is basically just the day-to-day occurrences in a character’s life. This happens and then this happens and then this happens and then…
But even if you’ve worked hard to try and give your story some structure, you could still end up with an episodic narrative by making this other very big and very common error. And that error is what I call “Convenience Factor” (CF).
Convenience Factor is a MAJOR problem in most of the stories I edit.
What I mean by Convenience Factor is “conveniently” putting something into a story without first giving it the proper set up needed for it to make sense and be cohesive. CF typically shows up when someone hasn’t done enough pre-planning or has been writing by the seat of their pants.
Since they didn’t pre-plan or pre-figure things out ahead of time, when they’re writing along, they drop new info into the story or bring in a new character or some other thing that now needs to be there. But they haven’t done enough set up for this thing, and so the story ends up feeling convenient, disconnected and random.
For example, I just edited a thriller story with a twist ending. The problem was, the “twist” wasn’t set up beforehand, so it came out of left-field and the new info it dropped into the story felt totally “convenient,” like the writer purposely held back that info to artificially force tension and create a “twist” ending.
It didn’t work.
You can tell your story is suffering from Convenience Factor if there’s information or things happening in the story that had no prior set up, foreshadowing, hints or mentioning. Everything that happens in a story must have a specific purpose and must move the story forward in some way.
New information, “twist” endings, characters who come in later, that all needs to be set up, hinted at, foreshadowed or mentioned in some way, otherwise what you get is Convenience Factor. And Convenience Factor leads to an episodic story, even if it has some structure to it.
The best way to avoid Convenience Factor is to pre-plan your story, so you know everything that has to happen, when and where, so you can properly set it up, foreshadow or hint that it’s coming. But even if you don’t, there’s still a question you can ask to fix it (more on that below).
Now, a big worry a lot of writers have is if they set things up or foreshadow, that it will give everything away to the reader too early. But that’s actually the opposite of what it does.
Let’s say, for example, you have a “twist” ending in your thriller where the reader is going to find out at the end that the Antagonist switched places with her identical twin sister and the whole time your Protagonist thought she was the other sister and has been feeding information to her that actually caused his demise. Great–that’s a twist ending.
BUT it has to be set up much earlier in the story that this character has a twin sister. The reader has to already know she’s a twin. Dropping that info into the story early on isn’t going to pop up any red flags for the reader. And then when the “twist” happens at the end, the reader will actually be surprised and delighted by it.
Otherwise? Convenience Factor. You conveniently left out that she had a twin to try and create tension and a “twist” ending for the reader.
You end up pissing off the reader by leaving that info out. It feels totally random and disconnected because there was no set up for it. And you’ve just ruined the ending of your story.
And, of course, because the information is totally random, you’ve also just made your story episodic.
So, how do you overcome Convenience Factor? Simple.
Go back through every single thing that happens in your story–every bit of new information, every new character, every situation, every plot twist, etc,.—and ask the following question:
- Is there anything that needs to be set up, hinted at, foreshadowed or mentioned earlier for this to make sense and feel connected?
The easiest way to see cohesion and connectedness in a story is to watch a movie, paying attention to every little seemingly random thing that happens, especially in the beginning. And what you’ll find as you continue watching, is everything that happened; every bit of conversation, every time the camera stayed on something for a few seconds longer than it needed to, it’s because it was setting up, hinting at, mentioning or foreshadowing something to come later.
Real life is random, but a story should never be.
And speaking of story, if you’ve been putting off writing, revising or finishing your story, telling yourself you’ll wait ’til January to get started again, I’m challenging you to step up RIGHT NOW, put away your excuses and get your book DONE.
Get Your Book DONE is my FINAL workshop for 2018. And because I really, really want you to see that life is in session NOW (and there’s never ANY reason to wait!), I’m offering this workshop at a Pay-What-You-Can price.
That’s right!! You’ll get the support, community and accountability you need to get your book DONE, and at an investment that won’t break the bank.
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Dream life or bust,
P.S. And, OF COURSE, I’m doing this workshop with you!! I’m not finishing a book, but I am finishing, revising and submitting my brand-new screenplay to a contest that has a final deadline of December 12. Whether you’re writing a book, a memoir, a screenplay, a short story or something else entirely, this workshop will help you get it DONE before the clock strikes Midnight on January 1.
>> Details and sign up here: www.jenniferblanchard.net/getyourbookdone